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Attitude key to aging well

W A Primer for Old Guys Eat Smart, Exercise, Be Happy By Dr. Larry McConnell Available on By Jeff Holubitsky Calgary Senior Editor It takes more than exercise and nutrition to put a shine on the third chapter of life.

W A Primer for Old Guys

Eat Smart, Exercise, Be Happy

By Dr. Larry McConnell

Available on

By Jeff Holubitsky

Calgary Senior Editor

It takes more than exercise and nutrition to put a shine on the third chapter of life. It also takes a good attitude, says Calgary writer Larry McConnell.

In his latest book, the 70-year-old retired psychologist and CEO of large social service organizations, tackles many of the problems faced by the aging male boomer, though a lot of the advice might also apply to females.

“If you are talking about quality of life and well-being you have to have a positive attitude and a sense that you can't sweat the stuff that you can't control,” he says. “If you don't have social engagement and you think that nutrition is a bunch of hogwash and you sit on your ass, it ain't going to happen.”

McConnell is also author of Cardiac Champs: A Survivor's Guide.

We asked him about his latest work:

How do you view the aging process, as a psychologist?

Particularly with aging, there tends to be a stress on the physical health dimension in the medical context – a disease orientation, disease prevention, disease cure and disease treatment and those kinds of things. Of course, being a psychologist I have a bias or natural orientation that the key to well-being is psychological. That's why I made the first chapter about attitude. I guess my orientation would be holistic, to use a worn-out word. I think one goes with the other. I think there is an argument for what you think and what you bring to the table at the root, but that's only an argument. I think what I feel most strongly about is the holistic thing.

How do relationships change with age?

A lot of guys my age are in long-term relationships and yet there are going to be strains and stresses and ups and downs. However, I also think that we, as humans, have the need for intimacy. Intimacy enriches our lives generally and it is not something that can be discarded because you are out of the labour market or you are old, or what does it matter now. It is very much connected to our overall well-being. Similarly with friendships. Having friends, having buddies, that whole social dimension that I go through in the book, I think is reflective of my holistic approach. I think it damn hard to be healthy in isolation and I am using the term healthy very broadly. It doesn't matter if you are eating well, because there is also this other dimension to us I refer to as the social element and if you want quality of life you have to pay attention to it. Isolation and lack of friendship is a huge issue with seniors.

Part of the problem, I think is that when you leave a career, you realize that many of your friends have been job friends. Do you know what I mean?

I know exactly what you mean. Some seniors had a network outside of work and they continue along. But I think you have to have some proactive approaches to getting connected and developing relationships with people your age and generation. Surprisingly, I think you find a response there. Twelve or 13 years ago I stopped working, and one of the really big advantages was I could play golf outside the hours of guys who could only play when they aren't working. What really hit me like a ton of bricks is that I had nobody to play with. Everyone I had played with worked, or I wasn't hanging out with them anymore. This was a big part of my social life. I had to find new people and do things that were a little bit uncomfortable. I realized I had to get connected with some older dudes. I put a sign up in the dressing room and lo and behold, a guy actually phoned and we still hang out. He told me how difficult it was to call, and it just seemed weird. Once you are removed from work, it is a great equalizing factor. The common denominator becomes I don't work, I am a pensioner, a senior or whatever. It can be cool too.

You talk about how being a grandparent can be a difficult thing. How can old guys deal with it without being the old grump?

One of the things I talk about is whose needs come to the forefront in many families. If I was still a practicing psychologist I would probably open up a grandparent practice. The use of babysitting and parenting grandparents in so many cases is very, very perplexing for many people as they get older. They are doing way too much parenting. Some of that has definite economic roots, because two parents may be working and they can't afford childcare, but there is humongous amount of difficulty with it. In terms of grandparenting, I think you have to be able to speak it and say here are my capacities, here are my interests and here is what I am able to do in terms of being the support agent you require.

The transition with your own kids in most cases it is giving your kids room to breathe and run their lives. If you are in your sixties, you are from a generation that was fairly rebellious. Our generation's children were not terribly rebellious and certainly nothing like us. Maybe it is important as a parent that to remember that when your kids get 21 or 25 you have to give them space and that comes with having a little bit of respect for what their capacities are.

What is the key to healthy aging?

I think it has to be to have a good sense of humour about the aging crap. You have to digest at one level or another, sooner or later the bottom line is that you are going to move along until disease wipes you out. Remember that you have to enjoy life because it is nothing other than a journey to death. Take it for what it is and enjoy it.